Battle to save Bronzeville school heats up

Hundreds of children impacted as concerns swell over future of gifted program at Gallery 37

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Chicago Crusader staff report

A battle is brewing to keep the Bronzeville Lighthouse Charter School (BZLCS) open as Chicago Public Schools seek to close the school for academic reasons.

The fight comes as concerns linger over the future CPS Advanced Arts Program at Gallery 37, a widely celebrated magnet arts program that could close by the end of the semester, despite assurances from school officials it would not.

BZLCS’s future is now in the hands of the Illinois Board of Education, which must also decide the fate of three other schools that were all recommended for closure just two weeks after they were placed on the CPS’ newly created academic warning list. The controversial decision last November was met with heavy criticism from parents who said CPS gave only 10 days for educators to turnaround Betty Shabazz-Barbara A. Sizemore Academy, Larry Hawkins High School, Amandla Charter High School and BZLCS. Appeals to keep open Betty Shabazz and Amandla Charter Schools have been filed, but no hearing has been set.

For BZLCS, The Illinois State Charter School Commission will hold a public hearing at the school at 6 p.m. on February 16. The school is located at 8 W. Root St.

At the hearing, the commission will gather information from the community that will help them to decide whether to grant the school’s appeal to renew its charter. Parents, students, alumni, and community partners are invited to speak on behalf of the school and to share their personal stories about why BZLCS is a valuable educational option worth saving.

“This hearing will have a powerful impact on the State Charter School Commission’s decision because they really want to know what the parents in this community want. There will be official commissioners coming to listen to the community. These are the actual decision makers so this is a really important opportunity for our parents,” said Phyllis Goodson, Lighthouse Academies Regional Vice President for Illinois.

BZLCS has served the Chicago South Side community for over nine years and has a college preparatory, arts-infused learning environment . Many young scholars have been able to get into highly competitive selective enrollment academic centers and high schools after their preparation at BZLCS.

Jabari Brooks, a founding student who entered BZLCS in the 38th percentile as a third grader and left in the 99th percentile. He is now a senior at Chicago’s prominent Whitney Young High School.

“Closing this school will destroy a pivotal stepping stone for young African Americans like myself to ascend to new heights,” Jabari said. “The generation of teachers at BZLCS has raised a new one that will not complacently sit by while the select few wreak havoc on the many.”

BZLCS was well into their renewal process when they were abruptly notified less than 24 hours before their scheduled renewal site visit that Chicago Public Schools CEO Forrest Claypool would be recommending the school for nonrenewal and that their site visit was canceled. 14 days later, the Chicago Public Schools Board of Education voted to not renew their charter. BZLCS is the first charter school in the history of CPS that has been denied the due process of a full renewal process detailed in the charter agreement with CPS. CPS attorneys said it was because they did not have the money.

Now, the educational options of the 450 students currently enrolled at BZLCS are at risk of disruption and the community will face yet another setback following the closure of 50 CPS schools in 2013. The school has received multiple grants this year to fund an edible garden and to install a bee hive as well as to conduct additional professional development for teachers. Parents say these plans and opportunities will be lost if the school closes.

At Gallery 37, concerns about the school’s future have been ongoing since January 22, when 227 employees were laid off. CPS officials said the layoffs were a cost cutting measure, but the move fueled worries that the move was the beginning of the end for program. Some 150 gifted students-many of them Black- are enrolled in the AAP at Gallery 37. They take honors and Advanced Placement classes ranging from drawing and painting to video production to culinary arts to jazz performance. Enrollment is capped at 250; currently, about 150 students are enrolled. The courses make up an after-school program but separate from After School Matters, the popular program founded by Maggie Daley, the late wife of former Mayor Richard M. Daley.

CPS officials say they are looking into “potential modifications” to the Advanced Arts program that would allow a larger number of students to benefit from this unique program. So far, no decisions have been made to modify the program.

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